Dec 20, 2006

Biting Back

There was this detail from a story in the New York Times....

"As soldiers paraded by a grandstand with top American and Iraqi military officials, as well as dozens of tribal leaders, a group of commandos with their faces blackened gathered for a demonstration of their courage. Each man reached into his right pocket, pulled out a frog and bit its head off. They threw the squirming legs to the ground as the group’s leader held aloft a live rabbit. He slit the belly and plunged his mouth into the gash. The carcass was then passed around to the rest of the soldiers, who took their own bites. It was explained later that this practice was especially popular among Saddam Hussein’s feared Fedayeen militia, whose members had done the same thing with live snakes and wolves."

Dec 4, 2006

From northwestern Kenya

yesterday i was in the middle of a meeting when i got a call from kapenguria. there's a 3-year old who's just been raped and they need to put her on ARVs (to prevent transmission of HIV). they can't find any of the clinicians. took us an hour, but finally managed. all the while, the little, 10 kg girl was lying in the wards, her parents mute beside her.

Nov 30, 2006

Muslim Dialogues

My last post brought this comment.....

"When you say that it's their karma ( for oppressed women) you sound like a religious person that tells the poor that if he/she suffers that's only because of his/her faith. Or you want to say that the only solution/choice for these women is to be "saved" by westerners? And yet, it's the religion. A religion exists only through practice. Islam today is defined by what some people' are doing. You would laugh at that, but I think women are oppressed everywhere in the world. The difference is that Arab/muslim women know that they're in chains and western women don't which is absurd. I'm not talking about men because I realize day after day that they're fragile creatures. The ones in the Atlas mountains understood it, they've left earth for women."

I agree.... And I did not mean to suggest that we can only wait for Islamic women to be "saved by westerners." I misspoke. It has nothing to do with East or West. It has to do with a basic sense of humanity, which is certainly inherent in Islam but has been lost on the pyre of fundamentalism. Many, many imams are not voicing that humanity or teaching it. And moderates, whoever they are, whereever they are, will not or cannot make themselves heard.

I would also argue that women in the West do know their captivity. They feel their chains all too well. But it's not the same captivity as women in many Islamic particularly Arab countries experience. The real captivity in the West is less unequal pay, the overbearing myth of superwoman and super mom, the stigma of motherhood, the relentless debate over 'women's rights' or the contradictory motioning of 'come closer / get back' that you find in bedrooms and boardrooms. Not those things so much; it's the malady of a fast moving, materialistic society in which women and men have little time for each other or themselves. Or their children. And so they drift. Depression is the commonest cold.

But these are all ailments of the mind. And in the end there is an underlying humanity, there is refuge in the West, there are spiritual resources and municipal resources — and there are friends, lovers, even family to which one can turn and find relief. Whatever is missing and suicide rates notwithstanding, there is nothing to compare — nothing — with the fear and desperation of women who choose the horror of burning themselves to death to avoid their plight.

And you wonder where is the outrage in the Islamic world? The response is always muted, and too often defensive, and linked to America and Israel....

On the other hand, women in the Atlas Mountains are different and I myself have met Kahena, the Veiled Queen of Jerawa, that most feared and fabled of Berber warriors.

(macnamband@mac.com)

Nov 29, 2006

"We Are Just Watching Things Get Worse"

This excerpt from an article in The Guardian (11/28/06 http://www.guardian.co.uk/afghanistan/story/0,,1958707,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=12) suggests once again the terrible truth about how Islam has been comandeered. The journalist is talking to a 28-year-old woman member of the Afghan parliament.....

Joya talks like this to me, furiously, for more than an hour, almost weeping as she catalogues the crimes against women that still keep them in a state of fear: from Safia Ama Jan, the leading women's rights campaigner assassinated in Kandahar earlier this year, to Nadia Anjuman, a poet murdered in Herat last year; from Amina, a married woman who was stoned to death in Badakhshan in 2005, to Sanobar, an 11-year-old girl who was raped and exchanged for a dog in a reported dispute among warlords in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan last month.

She is desperate for people to take account of the silent women whose voices we never hear. "Afghan women are killing themselves now," she says, "there is no liberation for them." This is not just rhetoric: the Afghan Human Rights Commission recently began to document the numbers of Afghan women who are burning themselves to death because they cannot escape abuse in their families.....


It is at once an argument for the West to involve itself further and to abandon the whole mess. What's particularly disheartening is that this is not the unique case of Afghanistan. Not merely the curse of the Taliban or a few bad apple imams in Teheran. Although women are, for the most part, infinitely better treated in Morocco, even there the situation is precarious and under the surface males regard women in much the same way. Even sophisticated, western educated males. I often heard them in my classroom. One told me once that women were 'property' and should have no rights. "It's like asking sheep what they would like to eat. Why would you do such a thing? It would be cruel."

It is not the religion, of course, but the way it's been carried through the centuries — in the minds of men, for the benefit of men. Or that is the politically correct view. Certainly, there is no defending the Pope's comments a few months ago about the violent nature of Islam. Whether true or not, his view only heats the burner. But these stories do wring out the heart. And perhaps you think, well yes this is their karma and let them to it and when they're finished we'll see them again.

Nov 26, 2006

Note from underground

Pour une vie normale et saine des enfants des détenus islamistes aux prisons marocaines.

-Et en célébration de la journée mondiale des droits de l homme.

- L’association ENNASSIR pour le soutien des détenus islamistes au Maroc , organise un sit- in devant le conseil consultatif des droits de l homme a RABAT Le 08/12/2006 a 15h. Et cela pour attirer l attention sur les conditions critiques vécus par les familles , enfants, et proches des détenus islamistes et dénoncer l exclusion de leurs dossier de toute arrangement favorable.

Le bureau d ENNASSIR
Casablanca : 26/11/2006

بسم الله الرحمان الرحيم



تحت شعـار:

- من اجل حياة سوية لأطفال المعتقلين الإسلاميين المتواجدين بالسجون المغربية

- وتخليدا لليوم العالمي لحقوق الإنسان .

تنظم جمعية النصير لمساندة المعتقلين الإسلاميين وقفة سلمية أمام المجلس الاستشاري لحقوق الإنسان بالرباط يوم الجمعة 08/12/2006 على الساعة الثالثة بعد الزوال. وذلك لإثارة الانتباه إلى ما آلت إليه أوضاع عائلات وأهالي وأطفال المعتقلين الإسلاميين بعد سنوات على اعتقالهم، والمطالبة برفع الحيف والظلم الذي لحق المعتقلين أنفسهم بعدما تم استثناؤهم من العفو وإقصاء ملفاتهم من جميع مراحل التسوية.

Nov 24, 2006

Slow... View Ahead

As you come up the narrow dirt road to the hill of the hawk, there's a small square patch of old plywood nailed to a post with the warning, 'slow... view ahead'. But you could read it differently and you probably do because by the time you see the sign you see what's beyond it, the beginning of the view — the sign is no more noticeable than a period on the page of the Oxford English Dictionary. As your eye records the sign, the mind will discern the true syntax, "Slow view... ahead." From this distance, up on the bluffs, the Pacific is more than simply the sea, some body of water extending beyond the horizon. This is all ocean, all male, earth mama, as big as a starry sky... The slow view slows, as if to say, 'don't worry about life and death, this IS what's ahead and it will take care of everything.'

Later, we went for a walk along the bluff, the three of us, and sat down off the path, lay back and shut eyes. Heather did a wonderful thing; she said nothing. Which comes from living in such a place. There's nothing to say, because after all you take a slow view of life. Then suddenly a shadow passed, and with it the sound of something whirring. Eyes open and banking 10 yards overhead was a condor, that gigantic flying machine with those totally modern wing tips, like long fingered hands for ailerons. The bird kept banking, and then suddenly there was another and still another. They were all over the place, this most exotic and still endangered specie. Finally, one lighted on a fence post a dozen yards away. It had a number on his wing, like race horses carry on a saddle or old time race cars with the number in a circle. This was an oval shaped white marker with a three digit number. The bird stood proud, head moving like an eagle's, surveiling the scene, and yet you had the sense this was something that was more than curious, that wanted to make distant contact, the way you would with something strange but familiar. In fact, the birds live up on the coastal range and with all the efforts to get them out in the wild and breeding again, they still have an affinity for the specie that first shot them down, then rescued them, then protected them, then tried to get them airborn again.

We watched. It was an amazing thing. And then we walked on, back to the slow view sign, and back down the hill.

Nov 8, 2006

Tigers and strawberries

Here's what I've been thinking about. Buddha told a parable in a sutra: A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him. Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!

-Paul Reps, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones
from Everyday Mind

Nov 7, 2006

Ginned Rummy

So much of the punditry has focused on the notion that Rummy went wrong when he tried to wage war on the cheap, that he didn't understand the depth of the insurgency. There is some truth in that, but there's more to it. In fact, the unexpected power of the insurgency was not his fault; it was Bremmer, among others, who made the fatal mistake of being ideological instead of practical. It was Bremmer who advised getting rid of all the Baathists in government, thinking these were deciples not paid acolites. Bureaucrats needed a job. They were no danger so long as they could bring home the bacon.

Rummy's particular mistake was not knowing his foe. Not knowing that what Arab societies crave above all is security, that what they fear above all is chaos. This was the gift and the ability of the Prophet, to bring warring tribes together, to a sense of affinity beyond kin and the spirits in wadis and dunes.

The object in Iraq should have been to install a benevolent dictator, not implant democracy. The mistake in Vietnam was to think that communism was monolithic, that Ho Chi Minh was Mao's puppet. The mistake here was to think that Hussein was anything more than a dictator who could be bought off far more cheaply than the cost to destroy him.

Nov 1, 2006

An American in Morocco

In my experience, Moroccans assume there is a vast difference between the American government and the American people. "We don't like Bush; we like the American people" is always the mantra. But then you say, 'well yes but remember that 69 million people voted for George Bush in the last election. If you don't like Bush you have to accept his retinue. "Oh but we like Americans."

Or do they and should they.... Which brings to mind Karen Hughes' recent visit to Morocco. You might read an account that appeared in the Atlantic recently. Click on the link below.

Oct 30, 2006

After the game I spent the night in a Lewiston Motel 6. The TV is all you get but in the middle of the night — with the rain still ranting, and somewhere above you people shouting, doors slamming — the ads are all you need. I surfed through a fury of steel haired, stutter-tongued evangelists and gypsy fortuntellers fingering magic potions for sterility, alzheimers, and erectile malfunction. There was also the roundchair wheel chair salesman and Candi Disky, lamenting that she didn’t catch on camera her husband’s bow shot kill of a 19-point white tail deer; and call-this-number for a good time with big breasted "Wild Girls", an ad mixed with scenes of truck jumps... And the director Bob Zombie on his art and what he’s trying to say in his movies, including "House of 1000 Corpses" and "Devil's Rejects". In one of these films, the last scene portrays a young woman run over by an 18 wheeler. The only other ad I remember was a Zionist appeal for Israelis living on the border with the Lebanon. It occurred to me at one point that we are getting down to last things. The last time we'll ever do that; the last time we'll ever do this. Last times. Late at night. In Maine.

Oct 29, 2006

Drop

The last time I will probably ever see him play ball was yesterday in driving rain. 42 degrees and a handfull of colored umbrellas. The field was no better than Verdun in the winter of 1917. It was a tie game through regulation, then double overtime and on third down in the second overtime they finally threw to him, but by then it was like catching a cinderblock and through a maze of defender's muddy black hands the kid was distracted and dropped it. One more down and the Bobcats were done; the Mules got it and kicked a field goal and that's 0 and 6 for you, folks. In a D3 program where the Bobcats once went for years without a win. In a program where the college radio wouldn't broadcast the game if it was the league championship. In a program once described as the worst football in America. In a program where sometimes older players, after a couple of beers, tell recruits, "If you're serious, don't come here."

Coaches are good, but in the end it's a vicious cycle; you don't win, nobody wants to be part of that. So often you're left kids from the backwater who don't know the first thing about it and while they have all the blue collar enthusiasm you can imagine, heart from here to the horizon, they just don't have the stuff to block, tackle or catch for 60 minutes. The coach yells in the post mortem every Sunday, "What is it? You can't understand what we're saying at practice? You can't grasp the system?"

Whatever it is, they can't. They don't. And now most have become like soldiers who don't want to get out of the trench.

You can only go so long like that. Even if you've had some games lost by a field goal, or an extra point; nothing helps. Look at those fans in New Orleans and Phoenix and San Francisco before "The Catch". Or Detroit. An Indiana University study of the relationship between NFL football and domestic noted, "the more the team was expected to lose, the greater the number of domestic violence dispatches on game day."

But what if you have only yourself to take it out on...

***

He was always the go-to kid, could catch anything, and really believes, or did, that if you can touch it you can catch it. And he always did when he was just a kid, running down toy balls and disappearing into a cedar tree to do it. The day he decided this was for him was when he went against another kid his own age, just the two of them, 9 and 8 respectively, at the Polo Fields, in fog and drizzle. The other kid couldn't catch and drove up and down the field. I was all-time Q; Dylan dropped some balls in the rain, just like yesterday, and fell behind. Eventually, he got as angry as I've ever seen him. 'How could this be? How could someone that didn't know the game and couldn't catch a ball get ahead?' From his anger he dropped the passing game and went to running, and then the contest got primal. He didn't try to run around the other boy, he ran through him, again and again, until the other boy called it quits. If you'd seen it you'd ask why I let this go on. I did because it's in our blood. But after that game, with his nose bleeding and his lip cut, he was happy beyond compare; he'd come back, he'd tasted that sport and wanted more. He's had some great moments, and so it was sad to see it end back in the rain but no way to get even....

Oct 15, 2006

The Price of Priviledge

A few nights ago I went to a class meeting with Dash's teacher. He is excellent, as good a teacher as you'll ever find. The one good reason to stay in this city.

The parents arrived to hear news of the academic year, which begins with the Englightenment, Joan of Arc, King Arthur and so on. But the parents were not interested in that so much. They were worried about something else. There was an incident last week in which several girls, all 7th grade classmates, had walked off from their ivory tower on Washington Street down to Japantown. Without telling anyone. A parent happened upon them completely by accident, and after scolding them, bought them ice cream. But it was a traumatic moment. There was a lot of fear that this might lead to 'other things', as though they might be caught and sent off as concubines in some desert or other. And that was not all. Other parents are gathering together to hire a therapist to advise them how to raise boys. (The girl's parents are doing the same thing).

These parents are not defensive about this, but quite proud of themselves. One held up a new book to justify their concern: The Price of Priviledge. As if to say, 'you see the ghosts we're afraid of are real.' The book is written by a woman in Marin County who apparently recounts the turmoils of kids with everything.

And of course it's interesting that here's the upper middle class that got everything they wanted, except the one thing they really wanted, a sense of community... The problem is they assumed they could continue the line without much effort, that was the point of all the soccer tournaments, the AP courses, the community service, the travels to the Louvre, the tutors, the letters of recommendation from presidents and prime ministers, legacies within legacies, and that was all just to get into high school.

These parents are not so disoriented as the ones in Marin, but they are still fearfull and confused. They have made their children their friends, made them their sole hope for redemption, for all their failures great and small. However, one got it right, an immigrant of course. "If there is a problem, I just solve it," she said. "What else is there to say?"

Oct 14, 2006

Passing Through the Bardo

On the way up to Canada for the bon voyage, I read the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Thinking that was as good an instruction as I could find. Her funeral was on the day she was coming out of the "unconsciousness" and just heading into the bardo. The bardo proper as it were. I promised myself I would send her a prayer each day, imploring her to go toward the bright lights that mark the city of Nirvanna, not the soft lights that mark a bad road to the hell realms. I read about the wrathfull dieties, Rudra in particular, whose story is particularly appalling. And I read about the situation she would face for six days after entering the bardo and how she would encounter a new spectre of monstrosity each day but that these were merely shadow puppets and delusions, and she could transform them easily enough into luminosity, roughly speaking. It's the great hope of Tibetan Buddhism that as you go through the bardo there's always another chance. The implication is that if you don't get it then you really do need more time suffering the slings and arrows of lower animals and wisdomless creatures....

But I did none of it. No prayers, no good wishes. I don't know what happened. I put things off, I let it go. I went back to my stone and forgot all about the rest...

Oct 13, 2006

A largely fictional portrait 'and yet...'

Magdalene's Passion (http://www.thekingsenglish.org/)

Oct 5, 2006

Ann of a thousand lives


Ann_2
Originally uploaded by macnamband.

Message

This was the message to me, received by one of Ann's friends during the funeral... In the original and translated.

À mon fils tant aimé,
J'aurais voulu, j'aurais voulu, je n'ai pas pu, je n'ai pas su te dire combien je t'aimais... te le dire avec conviction et partager tes joies et tes peines qui me touchaient au plus haut point. Le Ciel ne m'avait pas donné la capacité de m'exprimer simplement : j'étais toujours sur une scène qui me permettait de cacher mes émotions. Des sphères de splendeur où je me promène maintenant, je te demande pardon pour tous mes manquements de "mère". Je te demande pardon de n'avoir pas su t'aimer assez, de ne pas t'avoir facilité la vie. Sois heureux, mon fils-tant-aimé, et convaincu que de là-haut ta Maman veillera sur toi et sur les tiens, sur ceux que tu aimes. Agis toujours selon ton cœur, et mordsla vie à belles dents. Elle en vaut la peine.
De mon cœur à ton cœur,
Je t'aime.

To my beloved son,
I had wished, I had wished, I couldn't, I couldn't tell you how much I loved you... to say it to you with conviction and share your joys and your sorrows which touched me up to the highest point. The Divine did not give me the ability to express myself simply. I always was "on stage" which allowed me to hide my emotions.
From spheres of Splendor, where I wander today, I ask for your forgiveness for all my failures as "mother". I ask for your fogiveness for not having loved you enough, for not making your life easier. Be happy, my beloved son, and convinced that from "up there" your mother will take good care of you and those that are yours, those that you love. Always act as your heart dictates and "bite life with great teeth". It is worth it. From my heart to your heart,
I love you.

Oct 3, 2006

Last Lite

Eventually, the city appeared through clouds and dark. Tankers moored in the roadstead stood out like diamond pins on a black mourning dress. The plane finally got down and to the gate. They were all techies in first class and took their sweet time disembarking. One was a dwarf, another laughed to herself hysterically.

Before that, flying out of Missoula to Seattle, in the proverbial gloaming, she appeared out the window, like a Matisse brush stroke. I was listening to the Bill Evans trio and between her waving like mad and the music I had a few seconds of euhporia.

Before that, before the drive from Cranbrook to Kalispell, we all stood outside the creamtorium, a little cinderblock Auschwitz, no bigger than a one car garage, but dour and dark, with a white garage door and then a dark green door through which the took her. Behind the green door, I thought. We didn't stay for the smoke or the ashes. I went to each person in turn and said goodbye. SN seemed suddenly distant. I sensed she was glad it was done and that I was going.

Before that, when we first arrived at the chapel she lay in the casket under a white veil, with little gold stars. She looked like an Indian princess — Indian-indian not like a dowage, like some old crone. I could make out the outline of her nose; that's how I knew it was her. I couldn't see eyes and I wondered if they'd been redacted for some reason.

Altogether, she seemed impossibly small, about the size of a ventriloquist's dummy. But still beautiful of course and for a moment I imagined pulling off the veil and she would open her eyes and say something like, "Wish I was dead? Well, I'm not. Thought you were gonna get rich, well you're not. And if you've got any spare change I need a drink, bad." And I would say, 'I'll bet you do, Tallulah, but you never looked better.' And she would laugh and pee in her pants. And I'd tell her I had some scotch in the car. 'Hallelujah.' And we'd do a riff on Hallelujah Tallulah. Then we would go out to the car and get smashed and talk 'black' and pretend she was a poor slave and I was the wealthy landowner. She'd get into her Butterfly McQueen act and we were going, going, Gone With the Wind.

The last time we did that was on the drive between Rabat and Casablanca in June 2005. She'd been quiet up 'til that point and then I suppose she realized I wasn't going to kill her after all, so she lightened up and went through all of her old routines and we laughed and laughed just the way we always did.

Before the funeral, that morning, we sat in that urt like temple they have. There's a photo of the maitre, looking very distinguished, more like a famous character actor than a genuine master. The long white hair, the white suit. White on white, the way masseurs used to dress at the Palm Springs Racquet Club.

The photo hangs in the window facing east. It's a sun cult after all. Below the photo there's a table with white lace down to the floor and on the table crystal oblisks and other chachkas, globes and hearts and little flying dragons. There's a bouquet of wheat and a pot of pink flowers. Off to one side a ball spins in a water sculpture.

The night before they had 'Ann night.' People read poems; a girl played the violin; the choir sang and they can really sing. And then SN asked if I wouldn't say something. So I did and told about that time she came to visit us in Miami and got out on the court in middle of the condo complex, this was on Brickell Avenue in Miami, a little like East Germany but the weather was great. She had me hit her some balls at the net. I hit her some and she said, 'no, hit 'em. C'mon whata ya think this? Hit 'em.' There were people up in the balconies looking down and you could hear them saying to each other, "hey, Art you gotta come out and see this. Looks like Little Mo at Forest Hills, don't it? What year was that? 1938?"

It seems as long ago as the late 14th Century, but there she was with no shoes vollying just like at the Racquet Club or the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club and probably Tony Trabert's bed and some other beds too. She was the true antidote to death and despair in those days....

After the presentation, all the brothers and sisters went downstairs where there was a table with her picture, a little candle, and pictures of her family. SN asked me to identify the people in the photos. Her mother, I suppose, her brother. But I wasn't sure. She'd never told me those things. The truth is, I knew very little, other than what she'd told me in Morocco and some of that seemed speculative. She, herself, didn't seem sure.

But as we stood looking at the photos people began asking questions and telling stories. One woman told about the time she offered Ann a room in her apartment, in New York, and how she was the ideal guest for the first two weeks but then things changed. And when she told Ann she needed to leave, things went bad in earnest. Another woman told a story about the time Ann hit her and this woman hit back. The exact parallel of my own fight with her on the onramp to the Sawmill River Parkway in 1966. To hear these stories you'd think, 'well, but how did you put up with her for all these years?' People explained that, how they were able to see through her, how you could draw her out with a joke, about the time no long before she died, while walking ever so slowly to the dininghall, she told the person whose arm she was holding on to, "Are we going slowly enough for you?"

In the end, she may be remembered because she was a character and because it was always clear where she stood, and in her immovableness, appeared perhaps stronger than she was.

One person who knew her particularly well, and who endless enjoyed her grace, a man of course, told me, "I could see her suffering, I could see that underneath she was terrified. But I just let her go through that and wait 'til she got to the other side of it.'

Sep 30, 2006

On the third day....

On the third day, nothing rose again. And no sign from the other side. Or from this side, for that matter.

When my father died a friend got a message. This friend was a carpenter who lived out in Malibu, and a very good man, which is no doubt the reason. The message was brief and cliched. I believe in those things. But you have to be tuned properly, I suppose. There's no yelling involved.

We went for a walk on the beach this afternoon. The sea was metallic and at rest. A seagull was picking at a crab washed up on the shore. As we approached the gull backed off. The crab was still alive. I threw it out in the surf, but it kept coming back like a bad trait. Finally, I walked out into the surf and put it down as the tide was receeding. Then for a moment, it was just the gull, the crab and I all struggling — for food, safety, some sense having done a good thing.

Sep 28, 2006

Add Out

I had just sat down on my first day in a new job, in the brick and mortar of New Detroit, in the shadow of Oracle around mid morning. I flipped through the morning email. This arrived...

September 27th, 2006

Dear Mark!

Thank you for your last e-mail! (which was 3 months earlier)
Here is, your mother past away today at 6 p.m. Ten days ago she was still coming to the room even if she was weak. Then she stayed in bed but we brought her outside in the afternoon in the sun. And for the last three days her consciousness was detaching gradually. Before she had a sore knee as she was walking. She died peacefully, without pain. There was a team that kept watching over her taking turns from one another every 3 hours, reading to her and putting her some music. We feel that it was a nice leaving despite all the worries of life.

We will send you her death certificate and I don't know if something else interests you. She has very few things. She wanted to be incinerated but before that we will have a little ceremony with prayers and songs on Saturday, September 30th, in a chapel, at 11 a.m.

We express you our sympathy. She expressed nice words and asked to her children and to all the people she offended to be forgiven.

May she rests in peace!

Sincerely!

Natacha and the family

Email has no force, even with so many errors. The voice is ambiguous, androgynous, all the words have a login quality. And after all, it comes on a screen, in impersonal and imperial type face. Without a nervous breath, without stutter and stammer.

So many questions. And so many more later.

A few minutes later someone calls from Jaffrey to cement the news. I'm almost home. It's a French voice. Brigit. I don't remember her. "We will have the funeral on Saturday," Ok. Seems a little soon I'm thinking. Not asking me, telling me. And would you sign the death certificate? Yes. Then Brigit is gone; she'll call back.

Meanwhile, I'm like Marcel with his stranger heart, knee deep in dust, walking up the road to see what had become of his dead mother. That's what I thought of. I went to literature first for bearings. Otherwise, no sensation. White line fixation, but nothing behind it.

And then another call. From the mortician in Cranbrook, an hour or so west of the commune. He explains that since there was no doctor present at the death, there must be a coroner's inquest.

"Yes, I'm agreed." I always thought that place would make a great soundstage for an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. A Canadian commune. French accets. The choir in the background, the people toiling in the field, the intruiges growing everywhere. Rumors of two sets of books, money stolen from a wealthy benefactor. Money borrowed and not paid back.

The mortician hangs up.

The rest of the day I go floating down the Ganges of memory. It was quite a life, say what you will. Quite a life. From uncertain wealth to more certain wealth, to poverty, to self banishment, to a room no bigger than a bed. From New York to Paris to New York, to Hollywood, to New York, to Paris, to Canada, to Morocco a year ago last June. See those posts for a photograph. But what a life. Grew up in Paris after World War I, the step daughter of an aid to General Pershing, was a cover girl at Harper's Bazaar at the beginning of World War II; learned tennis from Bill Tilden, at the beginning of the Korean War, you should have seen her moving around the court, with a man's forehand, 'like a tiger at the net', roving back and forth on the baseline, in the sleepy Zen peace of a long rally.... She had several tennis lovers, stars and bums alike, and her share of movie stars, famous and not. She gave dinner parties one moment, the next it seemed she was down on her knees at Bendal's in New York, literally pulling shoes out of boxes for women who had once sat at her table, and it was a great mystery to them, a Du Mauppassant story if there ever was one, of a woman spun off like overly ripe fruit in a farm wind, who finally ended up in Le Domaine Du Bonfin. Which has known better days I can tell you.

As for Morocco, it was no good when she came. That was a faux ending. Any writer would throw that out, save some mystery writer hack. But the better ending, a scene from Flaubert, would have been she and two other women sitting on chairs in a cinematographer's late afternoon light, telling you all about their lives and loves in August 2004...

Sep 24, 2006

From West Pokot, Marina writes....

I flew back to eldoret - only to spend the next four working days in the field - and then the weekend at this insanely surreal BEAUTY PAGEANT in the middle of west pokot - so I've only just returned tothe world of hitech communication (ie. a phone and a computer - let alone food other than ugali, sukuma, and goat meat - but no matter). the beauty pageant was an effort conceived and developed by R., that Swiss german
60-something year old I was telling you about who came to kenya and never left, always with a pipe in his mouth, gray curly hair, glasses, basically the look of the absent-minded professor — with a german accent. Basically, he's an entrepeneur who loves women. So, why not bring tourism/good press to west pokot by creating this 'peace beauty contest' that will have as its contestants 10 girls from four warring
districts/tribes? of course, there are some complications: mainly, what is beautiful? But, no matter, he and his pokot (female) assistant, pushed forward, and in the end, they found a sponsor to fund the 7 million kenyan shillings (about $700,000) to have this event at the turkwel dam (the heart of dispute between the pokots and the turkanas), inviting more than 1000 people, including the vice president (who arrived by helicopter - and stayed for all of 5 minutes) - so we all languished in the dry, thorny heat, enjoying warm soda and beer, watching these
'beauties' parade by in all their beaded, naked splendor... Definitely a site to behold - and never to be seen again. I left claustrophobic from the crowds and
filthy port-o-potties, disgusted with white men and their presumptuous, patriarchal bullshit, and sunburned by the incredibly unforgivable sun.

Sep 16, 2006

Angle of Repose

I went with Dash's class on a four day trip to Mt. Lassen, the southern most volcano in the Cascades. Mr. Lassen and Mt. St. Helens are the only active volcanos in the 'lower 48.' In the museum at Manzanita Lake, there's a mural sized photo taken by a man named Loomis on May 19th, 1915 documenting Mt. Lassen's last eruption: an atomic bomb of cloud swelling up to 25,000 feet, which delivered ash all the way to Reno, 200 miles away. These days the park is quiet, save for the eerie sound of wind smoothing through the pine trees, like the sound of distant surf or a new airconditioning unit. To children there's no suggestion of the ambiguity all around. The land is so docile you can pet it, yet underneath, there's all that magma roiling and boiling. Up at Bumpas Hell, the earth's ass farts sulphur out the fumaroles. Incidentally, one story about this man Bumpas, who owned land around the sulphur pits, is that one day he invited journalists to come up and see the place. When they arrived he stuck his leg into a mudpot, to show them it was safe or just as an act of daring. He was never the same again, his leg had to be amputated, he lost his land and fell into ruin. Another story is that nothing happened to his leg but he disappeared and no one knows what happened to him.

These things happened during our trip....

In the middle of the night, beneath the volcano, a child shouted out from the next campground. A boy by the sound of it. He seemed to be yelling, "forsook" or "forsooth." He said it once, there was a pause, then again and again. I zipped down the tent flap to hear better, but then he stopped.

*

We walked up a cindercone, to the top. I was to mind stragglers. One girl, a stick of 12, kept falling down, every few yards, on her back, arms spread. The book on her is that she's a drama queen, always does this kind of thing, always coughing in this Camille like way. She came from Hollywood a year ago. Single mother, absentee father. Mother's always gone. Girl doesn't get along with others in her class. Is always alone, blond and wispy. At breakfast one morning she used up all the jam for a sandwich and then asked for more. She was told there wasn't anymore and perhaps in future she should be more mindful of others. Her expression didn't change. She's heard all this before.

*

The park rangerette has long gray hair. She was past prime and kids thought she looked like a witch but I thought she was exotic and interesting. I thought of her as Becky Thatcher's mom. She talked all about the 50 kinds of fungi in these forests as opposed to a handful in Germany and how in Europe they take away all the fallen trees and so the forests are dying, there are no animals. She pointed out how different it was in America and how the 'Dougs' lived for 350 years, sometimes 500, and didn't drop cones until they were 175. She said it took them one hundred years to fall and two hundred more years to disappear, except maybe for a row of progeny. "One hundred years to fall," I thought. From the outside in. A hundred years to fall. So what does it take a man, or a woman, to fall? Ten, twenty years. Sometimes, life demands a long denouement, if you don't get cut down first.

*

Another straggler going up the cindercone was a one-armed girl. The armless arm ressembles a sausage end, tied up like a balloon. She didn't cough or swoon, but kept going, a few steps at a time. It's 1,000 feet to the top, at a 60 degree angle. She's overweight, unpretty and odd. I liked her. She doesn't talk much and when she does it sounds strange. She answers questions enigmatically, often with a nonsequitur. I caught her hand and lead her up to the peak and for a long while we just watched the world and nothing at all. I explained to her about the angle of repose, the angle after which there is no stability and gravity pulls everything down.

*

The nights were not good. Yellowish and still. On the second night I heard things but I assumed raccoons or bears were trying to get into the lockers to get food. The rangers make a big deal about putting everything away in the bear lockers or in your car. But the next morning it turned out someone had gone through the cars and stolen money. About $500 all together, $35 from me. They were good whoever they were, went in and took only cash, no credit cards, nothing that could be traced, although they did take a digital camera at another site. They hit four sites. The ranger thought they must be bad 'uns from Redding come up to pay for a drug habit. But they had to be sophisticated too. That they came the second night, not the first was significant. The first night nobody sleeps but the second night, after hiking all day, you're dead to the world. The ranger shook his head, claimed that this was the first time this year any thieves had come into the park. Later, he also said even though he'd voted for George Bush he wouldn't again. I asked him what to do about Iraq. "I'd go in there and round up all those bad people and just shoot 'em. What can you do with people like that. Just shoot 'em. That'd be the solution. That's the way they handle it. But we ain't gonna do that, so better just scatter outta there."

*

The nights were bad until you got used to it. Epic bad dreams; the mind does ugly shit when it's caught in the silence like that. As though it's trying to get out of itself, and out of your skull. I kept imagining a mechancial horse, in burnished blue armour, each leg and its neck tethered to chains, making this horrific sound the way horses do when they get spooked in their stalls. That was it, spooked in a stall, unable to get out, the smell of smoke. If only my mind could be bigger, I kept thinking. The same old ideas, the same old hopes and fears. The thing needs a bigger pot.

Sep 15, 2006

No Fear. No Hope

Everything is fine. Everyone is smiling. No matter all the films and commorations, no one really thinks about 9/11. Not really. America has no fear, and so, to fill in the vaccum creates a relentless entertainment of horror. The new fall TV serials explore 'the criminal mind'; kidnapped children; forensics and the end-all perils of 'Last Days.'

No fear and yet two weeks ago a woman, a friend of a friend, driving to San Francisco from Marin saw dark-skinned men driving two UPS trucks. The trucks followed each other and at high speed. Immediately, she stopped at the approach to the Golden Gate Bridge until she thought enough time had passed for the two trucks to reach the other side. I was told she waited half an hour.

I don't know if this is true, but it sounds familiar. I often imagine these calamities, and in great detail. They become points of departure for moral quandries. If the worst happened: would I stop the car and run to one shore or the other? Would I help others or run for my life? Could I hang on to the railings and survive? What would the sound be like of that bridge coming down? I imagine the car hurtling down into the bay and all of us with it.

Bizarre. How do you explain a society that cherishes fear, might even be addicted to it, on the one hand and, and on the other, feels it, deeply, neurotically, and flees it at every turn?

You could as easily substitute, 'death.'

It may be true as some scholars say these days that Americans have become so 'emotionalized' they can no longer reason or appreciate the value of reason. Sure, these are silly things to say; who can say anything at all about America? Who could speak for such a place? But if you were making that argument there was an interesting piece of evidence, a story today in the San Francisco Chronicle told how the cavalier attitude of Silicon Valley executives, whether in spying on board directors or sauteeing the books to boost stock values, has begun to undermine the valley's future....

It makes sense. The overly intellectualized strain in American culture has run its course. Reason has a bad reputation. Cavalier is back. Don't 'just do it'; John Wayne-it. Hence, the popularity of evangelicalisms. Modnernity is the real monster and so unable to comprehend it, much less acccept it, folks go back in Plato's cave.

But if you look over the horizon do you not see how some blend in the offing. Refined intuition, intellimagination, anim-spiritus. Common and sixth sense together, you might say.

Sep 12, 2006

Men — on life, art, beauty and truth

Two men outside a coffee shop on Filmore Street. (At the other end of the street from 'The Filmore', from Janis Joplin and the black jazz bands that 40 years ago gave the city its identity and inner beauty). Two men in lower middle age.

"Max has no respect," one said. He was wearing beige socks, soft leather loafers and a Polo emblem on his button down shirt. He spoke with a high voice. "No respect at all. He gets up in the morning and just throws his pajamas on the floor."

"Horrible," said the other man, "but I know what you mean. It drives Holly nuts."

"Kids these days..." said the first man and took a stiff sip of latte.

"They don't have to wash their own clothes, that's the problem," said the other man. "Lazy as hell. All they do as sit around."

"We do a load every day but I found this black detergent and it makes all the difference. I don't know about you but I have lots of black clothes, t-shirts, black underwear, black socks, black pants, and you just put it all with this detergent and comes out looking great."

"Black detergent?"

"Woolite, I think."

The conversation drifted to attorneys.

"You go in her office and she's got this old golden retriever. I like dogs but my god, this dog walks around like a cloud of shedding hair."

"Horrible."

"I walk in and all of a sudden..."

"...You're mohair man."

They were silent for a moment, taking the world in.

"I hate feeling dirty," said the first man. "I just can't stand it."

Sep 10, 2006

In dreamville, in the afterhours club of the subconcious, Don Rumsfeld has made my bed and I'm sleeping in it. It's all askew. I'm trying 'to get to the bottom of it' by stripping off the bedding, one layer at a time. But is this some convoluted reflection on my life solely or something else? I take off another layer of sheets. Each time there's a message that betrays Rummy — meeting notes, or scraps of newspaper, pity points that stun me. I can't remember them now, but the notion is that I've caught him in lies about the war and I alone have the proof. Now I must get to the 'authorities', have to make my way to 'headquarters', that upper room, where figures in the shadows sit around a lit table and discuss the great issues of the day. Men mostly, I can't see any women, in dark suits and white collars, vestments, robes...

Sep 8, 2006

News from car town

In the rear view mirror I noticed a 1956 Ford Fairlane Victoria Coupe (I looked it up later). Victoria looked so good, round-eyed headlights and a happy smile on the grill, braces and all. "Betty Furness," I thought, "I remember you, don't think I don't and all your refrigerators too." Victoria was rolling down 280 and of course so different from other cars, with their slanted headlight eyes, "Naruto eyes", as I've come to think of them — not the eyes of Texas but the eyes of Tokyo and Bejing. Algebra eyes, not Jane Austen eyes, and not just oriental but mind eyes, not mindfull, but intellectual eyes above closed mouths, tight lips, keeping mum about what's really going on, not wild, anything could happen eyes, but let's be careful eyes. Later, the boys in the back seat are talking about which cars they like and how Audis look cool and the $385,000 Lamborghini in the shop window on Van Ness is hella. But I look at all those eyes and sure, they're aerodynamically interesting, they're whizzy looking but they're not happy eyes, they're the eyes of designers who are trying to tell you somehing. If only you knew it. It's another message from the subconscious. Ibn Khaldun would say, 'look at the clock, it's after midnight, your society is past, passe and dead-oh.

Sep 6, 2006

Minutes in the hour of the wolf

The party ends. There are too many people. Wrong conversations, deceipts that can't be fathomed. You move from table to table, there's an uneasy feeling. Disolve. Walking along the side of a cliff, on a frozen trail inside a vast indoor cold world. Like a soundstage. I would almost have said an 'ice palace.' The cold is severe, yet artifical. You can only go so far on this trail, better to turn back. That would be prudent. You can see the trail reaching around the other side of the valley and you'd like to follow it, but it's too dangerous. You turn around but on the way back, the slippery slope not avoided, you drop something, a piece of tent flap, and in picking it up, in that motion of stooping, your weight shifts back, shoes lose traction, and over the edge you go. It's miles to the bottom, and for a moment there is relief that now it's all over, and there's no fear in that. You turn to say goodbye, to express real things in real time and that should be it, but your hands grab an edge. Not you, but your hands. And after a second you think, well 'it's not as difficult to hang by your fingers as you thought.' And so you are between rising and falling, living and not, stranded in uncertainty and ambiguity.

Sep 4, 2006

Rocketting off into the universe

We spent the night camping along the southern fork of the Eel River. The camp ground was jammed and noisey. People stayed up all night listening to loud music and chopping wood. They seemed to be mostly latino. Close to the road, everyone seemed to own a Chevy truck; down across the river, in the woods, everyone owned a Toyota truck. We left early the next day and tried to find a trail to an old growth grove but the trail petered out and there was no grove.

We got separated for a while and I came upon a doe, feeding in a thicket. It was about to scamper and kept stamping its left hoof. I stayed perfectly still, less than 10 yards away. It stared at me and stamped it's hoof, like a kid's foot gunning the engine. It's ears circled and dropped and rose, like some kind of weired radar system. After a couple of minutes, the doe stopped stamping. We both relaxed, but watching each other, dreaming in one way or another, transfixed, mindless, off. Eventually, I walked on; the doe went back to her feed.

We drove on, almost to Garberville and stopped at an old growth grove that straddles the road. I lay down on one of those benches fashioned from a section of Redwood. They're reminiscent of those deco style benches you used to see in Miami Beach.

The reason to come to this place is to lie on your back and look up. Many metaphors come to mind. One is the notion of a bridge and that in turn brought back an image described in a New Yorker Talk of the Town piece written just after the World Trade Center was built. The writer looked up and imagined a roadway to the stars.

You could do the same here, although on this day, with the sun coming in at an early afternoon angle and the way the branches were set, there was more the suggestion of four rockets launching simultaneously, amidst explosions of green and yellow blast. It was all about leaving the earth, escaping all the old gravities, going off on a 6,000 year-old-space ship bound for tomorrow.

Aug 14, 2006

Bla Bla Blog sheep

A famous literary couple in the East Bay had an interesting problem recently. The woman wrote in her blog that she was contemplating suicide. And the implication was, soon. Her husband was on a book tour and had no idea. Someone told him he should check in with his wife. He did and she didn't, commit suicide. Yet.

The person that told me this was sitting with her legs across my lap telling us, my wife and I, about her new lover. We were discussing how much people should reveal in their blogs, and how much men in particular should reveal. That in turn lead to the question of how reserved one can afford to be in this open, all or nothing culture. The answer, this woman proposed, was that you can be as open as you like but what's sexy is the person who withholds.

Which was always true, no matter what feminists said.

But what to do about the blog, that open sesame to experiences that may have interest only to the blogger. And anyway isn't this desire to take ones skin off, and one more proof that with all the activities and distractions, with all the publicness, people still feel disparate and desperate, and have no desire for privacy. In fact, they fear it.

It is increasingly becoming a woman's world, and yet this woman was saying that she likes a man to be vulnerable but not to reveal himself. What's he to do then?

Read men these days and they sound like all minorities, like women writers from India or China. Men are the new wetbacks and micks. And it's interesting to watch them clamour for attention... while women sit with their legs across your lap telling you about their new lover and their old lover and how men are no different than they've always been.

Aug 12, 2006

Mary Before She Was Even a Virgin

The cities creep along.

In car city, nuance is everything, definition and meaning. I lose myself among the nuances, for example, the way in which a subtle fold in the door panel of a new model Acura speaks, the way it creates a shadow, which in turn creates a contour, which is different or exciting, even original. "Wow," I think, and not cynically.

"So clean, so pure." "Follow me," says the design. "Look at me, watch me. You find me hot, no?"

Some of these designs speak like the magician with rabbits, and girls willing to be dismembered and re-membered. Design is mesmerizing, pacifying, even as it is a reminder of Ozymandius's lament.

In car city, I live in the equivalent of an old brownstone walk-up, like the one at 54 E. 66th Street in Manhattan where I spent three years, between 11 and 13. It's a 1990 Saab, with nearly 180,000 miles. It creaks and groans, you can hear the car slowly coming apart, on its way to heap and scrap, black red rust and odorless, colorless dust. And all the while I'm scrambling like a hamster on a wheel to keep it up, dreaming of how I will or would refurbish it, bring it back, preserve it.

Why? Because a car is a Jungian sympol, a subconscious anthem. It's a sign. It conveys work. If your car is breaking down, your work is breaking down. If your car is fast and sexy then you can see the echo in your own life. This is all true in the material girl world, signs are everything.

Jul 26, 2006

Also last week

While people here are ill in one way or another, and lost in the cities of isolation and desire, I got a note from Marina, who wrote in part....

also, last week there was a
serious affair that has, to put it mildly, ruined my
relations with several of my chief collaborators at
the hospital. basically, a little girl of 6 years was
tied up and raped on her way home from fetching milk
one thursday morning at 10:30. the rapist is a
20-something year old first-year medical student. the
first in his very powerful family. so, when the girl
was brought to the kapenguria district hospital to be
examined, it was ever so brief, and though lab samples
were taken, no forms were completed correctly; and the
next day, as she started bleeding again, it was
realized that the lab samples had been destroyed. by
the rapist's uncle, my dear friend, the district aids
and sti control officer for the west pokot. paul
rumosia. and rumosia was able to corrupt everyone
else so much so that even the district medical officer
refused to fill out the form necessary to bring the
guy to trial. until baptiste returned with a police
inspector who had been ordered to arrest whoever
refused to fill th eform on the spot.

it's worse than appalling. i feel like i've been hit
in the stomach several times over - like my world has
just been thrown over and dow ninto some cavernous
hole that leads to hell. needless to say, it's been
difficult trying to figure out how to continue working
with these people, trying to develop 'sustainable'
programs by working within a system where this is, i
must admit, the norm, not the exception.

Jul 23, 2006

Illness as metaphor. Really.

Everyone is ill. Many are in therapy. One was talking the other day about being in "crazy school" and how you sit there with the shards of your personality lying on the floor around you. She is on permanent disability. Someone else is taking a month off to see a therapist 3 times a week. She is temporarily disabled. These are women, but men are equally run down with sickness. The other day a man crossing a four lane avenue was caught on the island. Traffic was heavy and fast. He coudn't take it and got down on his haunches and put his face in his arms. When the light changed, and he heard the cars stopping, he walked quickly across to safety, found a bench and sat down. Another man, also chinese, ran across the street with his hands about his head, the way someone might do if they had a great idea or they were thinking, 'wow that blows my mind.' But this man was in pain. For some reason I thought he might be a painter. I thought maybe he'd been affected by the smell of turpentine. He began galloping down the sidewalk until he was out of sight.

Others are ill but they don't know it. On the cover of Parade Magazine the cover line reads "Could you have a rare disease?" If you're not afraid what with all the bad the news, the war, the economy; and you're maybe not yet afraid of old age or the fact that vitamins don't work, then here's something just for you. You might be one of 25 million Americans that have a rare disease.

And then one of B's old boyfriends is dying emphysema. From years of smoking. And all along he was told he was in danger, but he went right on. Still, death seems to have less currency these days. Everyone is doing it. So really, how bad can it be? You're here, you're there. No more taxes. Take a walk on the wild side. The biggest worry is if you have to come back and as whom or what?

Jul 22, 2006

Con ver sa tions

The blog name of one is "if i could be anything, i would be your tear so i could be born in your eye, live down your cheek and die on your lips" . The other's blog name is, "I’m just a kid and my life is a nightmare and everyone is having more fun than me".
'If' and 'I'm'. If is a 12-year-old girl with tremendous charm, wit and warmth. I'm is a 13; two years ago he was rumored to have burned up two kittens. She is Spanish; he is Moroccan. The conversation lay on the desktop, harmlessly.
If says to I'm, "r u there?"
"Yes," says I'm.
"Hw've you been?"
"Not much."
"What's it like there?"
"Hot," says I'm, who has an attention deficit disorder. HIs mother does virtually all of his homework for him.
"Here too."
"what areu doing over summer??" says If who has a job mucking out horse stalls.
"staying inside." I'm is a pudgy child and only has energy to play tennis. He did his science project last year on the length of time it takes crayfish to die in boiling water. Roughly 20 seconds by I'm's count. He's a good natured kid when you first meet him. So kind, so thoughtful. But underneath there is this other quality he cannot control. He tries to deal with it, but it's easy to give in and often he just can't help himself.
It was this boy in large measure which became the reason we left Morocco.

Jul 18, 2006

Strangely

Not a hair out of place and yet the city is edgy. There's something going on. The shoe man ordered me out of his store when I asked, and not with anger, why he would charge $8 to glue a sole back together. I had to apologize, I had to cajole to get him to do it. A clerk at Walgreen's yelled at a customer mercilously. I've heard stories about people distressed by the war and by the price of gas and by bad news coming from everywhere. From home and abroad... People don't seem to want to think about anthing too deeply, just get mine and be done with it. And yet everything is still easy, the old hip hop thrill is still there, cars are still full of music.

The bumper sticker said, 'my daughter is the slut of the month at George Washington High School.

I paid the mechanic a lot of money to check the car we were going to buy. He said the car was fine, so I bought it and then a few days later the clutch went out. Now it will cost a couple of thousand dollars to fix the clutch and the transmission, more than we paid for the car. "Hey," I said, "what about giving me a break on the cost to repair this." "Nope," he said. "No chance, no discount." I said, "C'mon, this is ridiculous. Let's talk about this." He hung up the phone. It was like to talking to myself in the old days. Everyone's become like the person I was. People are furtive, unclear, distracted. And when they smile it makes me think of the way people treat each other after a natural disaster.

Then we went to a Giants game. They won, but they seemed lackluster. We were down the third base line. Barry Bonds stood in front of us, one of the greatest hitters in history and in the middle of the game, when a pitching coach came to the mound to confer, Barry went down on one knee. Like he was tired, like he didn't care anymore. And when he came out in the fourth inning and played catch with a reserve player he threw without looking and when he'd had enough he threw the ball down so that it rolled to his teammate, the way a child would do when he doesn't want to play anymore, when he suddenly wants to go home. Often Baaaaary, Baaaary would look into the stands, but like looking into a crystal ball or for someone to say, a whole wave to start and tell him, 'it's okay we still luv ya. Barry. Even though you disappointed us and you took those drugs and maybe everything you did was fake.' In some other inning he hit a deep ball, just like the old days, high, and almost bye-bye baby but at the last second the ball slid down the inside of the center field wall like a sword in a sheath and you wondered, maybe without steroids Barry can't go those last few feet anymore. Maybe he never could.

All that and then the economy is not as good as I'd heard. There are jobs but not for the people that most need them. The city needs electricians and plumbers, and teachers, I suppose. But the jobs go unfilled. As TH said the other day, "the city is so exciting, I hate driving out to the country every night to go home. But somethings going on." I drove some boys to a baseball game last night in San Anselmo. People, and these are BMW people, were subdued. Even the suburbs have changed, I thought. The kids seemed a little nervous. They were looking into the faces of adults in a way I don't remember. As though, "I see you for what you really are, you're my parent all right, but you're someone else too, someone I don't know." It was like science fiction.

It reminds me of the way I'd been feeling in the Atlas sometimes. With all the news about people blowing up I became intruiged with the idea that if you blew up you might not realize it, you might go on, in some parallel sort of way, in a bardo soundstage, where everything is the way it was, except for some subtle changes. As times go by, seconds or eons, you realize that something is wrong but you're still eating and making love, all the sensations are familiar. And yet there's a problem and you don't want to think about it too deeply...

Jul 10, 2006

SFPL

At the public library the man in front of me, across the table, is black. He has a moustache. The shape of his face is narrow; he looks vaguely African. He's wearing a flannel long sleeved shirt. He's in his 40s, I think, although he looks like he's lived out in the streets and his age is unclear. He could be in his late 30s or early 50s. He's talking to himself, the two of them having a grand laugh over something. He's drawing small posters, and writing in that little tiny script that often marks the forensic. The poster reads, Cities of the Future. He has taken CDs from the classical music collection and used them to draw flying saucers. I can read these words, "Spinning mechanical gyroscope fly 100,000 light years away...." He's going over each letter over and over.

Outside the library, next to a dumpster in the park in front of city hall, there is another one, a young white man. In his 20s. In yellow sneakers and orange socks. With long hair. He's scratches himself mercilously. First his face, then his arms. Then he takes off his shoes and socks and scratches between his toes. "Life is great," he says to no one. "I'm loving life." He goes on scratching. He is clearly drugged, I'm guessing heroin, or methodone. Then he begins to scratch his legs and finally he begins to masturbate. But he's easily distracted. "Hey, hey Cecilia," he shouts. I look across the street but no one responds in the direction of his shouting. "I want to fuck you."

Jul 8, 2006

American Pie

It has been nearly three weeks since we returned from the Maghreb, since the customs clerk said, "welcome back." Which seemed such a revelation at the time, such a sign that we were re-entering our real 'home', the home of ancestors and where we belonged. But what to do with the ambivalence now... what to do with the sensation of being caught in a Sea of Sargossa, in the doldrums between one home and another.

I've always found solace and succor on the flights between places but never in the places themselves.

Now as time bends and memory becomes like so much landfill, the other place, on the shoulder of the volcano, seems more like home. I had forgotten that home is always the place you're trying to get to and never can. It's a memory of origination never anything more. And so here we are and Here seems particularly foreign and strange — if only because absolutely nothing has changed. Not a hair is out of place. The people look identical to how I last saw them. The neurotic quality of the city, the flinches and ticks I remember so well, are just as they were. Which leads to the sensation that these places we've been in lately are all so ephemeral, so not our home at all.

Back in America, you are back in MindVille. Back in the future, back to Pythagorean Theorem and the safety of intellect. And so here's an alleyway I've gone down lately: If one's world is the sum of 'formal' ideas, long held beliefs, and the mind's odd lot renderings then why not judge a place by the ideas behind it, rather than what you see. There's a difference after all. In America, for example, where car is more than ever king, not less as I had imagined, as you drive along you fall under the spell once more of all the makes and models, of design, of the importance of shapes which in turn reflects the need for individuality, as well as mobility. A curving fender, a rounded bumper, it all becomes provocative and demands critique and comparison, and finally the sense, would I want that or not.

And so if you spend hours in a car every day, then you become caught up in the intellectual world of car makers and oil drillers and the imperial armies of maketeers, and by extension their concerns, their personal histories, their dreams as kids. And then it's just hop skip and a jump to the absurd, to the neurotically infantilism of John Gregory Dunne's notion that men are ultimately divided into two groups, those that look in the toilet after they shit and those that don't.

I say all this because in my winding desire to return to Buddhist principles I've been struck by this notion of realizing emptinessness and how it demands such detachment, such an ability see the 'nothingness' in all things. Yet I can see that now, now and then, and just for an instant, the way you might notice something down a street as you drive quickly by, out of one eye. And you think, 'what was that? I want to see it again.'

Jun 20, 2006

Like Black Magic

I woke up at 5 a.m. I have not been able to sleep in weeks. At 6, I casually checked the airline schedule only to find out that the flight home was leaving Monday night, not Tuesday. And so for the next 11 hours we scurried to get out. It was an emotional day to be sure, not least having to take Lucy away. Still struggling, having gotten 'fixed' last Friday, she had been curled up on her chair for 3 days and now she sensed how this was all unfolding.

She will remain at the residence, with one of the guardiens. In the meantime, I took her to be with S, who teaches in the Communications Dept and who, being an 'animal person' in a place with little tolerance for domestic animals, pledged to take Lucy back to Fez to get her stitches out.

i carried Lucy out to the car. She chose to sit in the passenger seat, facing me, looking like a matron being taken out of a sanitorium for a breath of fresh air. She seemed indifferent, distracted. I spoke to her, mumbling about what a remarkable time it had been, how just a year earlier we'd been running on this very road and she had found the villa, and then how she had disappeared for more than a month. That was always a mystery and I was forever asking where she'd gone and why.... She would not say. I told her about this and that. I encouraged her, the way people do when they give into sentimentality. I hoped that she might acknowledge me somehow but she didn't, which became proof that she knew better, she understood. And so she remained enigmatic and distant. She had gone back to herself. She felt she was being betrayed and there was no way to persuade her otherwise.

I took her to Sandra's and left her off. Sandra has another dog, small and noisey. Lucy made her way inside, saw a couch and got up on it. The other dog danced around like a marionette. And then I left, just like that.

Jun 17, 2006

Last Rights

We went to M's for dinner. Just in the door, he pulled me aside. "Bad news," he said. He'd just gotten word from his family in Baghdad. They live in the mixed, well to do neighborhood of Mansour. They had received a threatening note. Apparently, someone had jumped over the wall and left it in their garden. When, was not clear, but in the last day or so. The writing was elementary, barely legible. Perhaps, it was a child, I said. "Maybe a fight in school. Maybe, it's not what you think."

"That's what I thought," said M, "a child from school." But then he shook his head. "It doesn't matter. We can't take a chance."

The note said the family needed to leave their house within 24 hours or one by one they would be 'destroyed.' After two generations in the house they had a few hours to leave. His brother who lives in the house, is an engineer who owns a small shoe factory. Maybe a grudge, I thought. Maybe it's not Shiites.

"It doesn't matter," he said.

What will become of the house, I asked.

"They will take it, like they take everything else. You see, they are after us," he went on. He lives in a famous family, there are hundreds of members. Now he has to get them out. "I told you the whole country is a mess. It's not going to change. This is the end of it."

*

We had dinner and M fell into a conversation about the university, about how badly they've treated him, how they never honored the three books he's written, the numerous articles over the last five years. He recounted how badly mismanaged the place is, how no one could call the city to get snowplows because that call needed to come from the president and no wanted to call the president. So there were no snowplows to clear the roads and few professors could get to class.

He told about how the university hired "friends" to accompany the prince when he left class. Three students, one from each social class. The prince graduated last year. I saw him a few times, a weird smiley kid in an oversized Audi. He looked like a joker, like a playboy, like someone who had been spoiled as a child.

M also told disturbiing stories about how the university had spied on him and run a policy of splitting and dividing split the faculty.

He told me about other scandals in the administration, how glad they were to be getting out. How even had the university offered better terms they would never have stayed indefinitly.

"I told you, Mark", he said. "We are 500 years behind here. It's a mess."

I asked if he would recommend faculty come to the university. "No, not Americans and certainly not Moroccans. They treat them very badly. Did you know that? It's embarassing what they do." He added, "It's a 'meanwhile place'. It would be alright if you are single and looking for a place to be for a year or two but no longer...."

What if you are a student?

"If you are serious you are not going to be here... This is for rich kids who want the appearance of an education. Nothing more"

Jun 10, 2006

Game

The game was played down by the Source Vitelle, in back of a bordello owned by the father of one of Dash's classmates, Salim. The father also owns a hotel downtown, with a full bar, frequented by students and riff raff from the Middle Atlas. So I'm told; regrettably, I never went to it.

The soccer 'field' was no bigger than a oversized basketball court, with long grass and much of the field under water, from a nearby stream. As for the bordello, it appeared to be an old fashionned hotel, with archways under a red tile roof, an empty swimming pool, with a foul look to it, men on horseback, trash in the stream that runs past, and expensive black skinned cars parked out of sight.

Meanwhile, the game backfired. Dash rejected all last minute appeals that he play for ASI and went with his regular team from Asrou. In the huddle before the game the ASI players urged each other to 'squish Dash.' He didn't play until the second half. The Azrou coach put in all his second team who end the half with a one all tie. Dash was sure the second half would be an easy victory, but strange things happened. First, the ref, a 10th grader, is the brother of one of the ASI players and called it close to home. For his part, Dash played well, although not as aggressively as he needed to. Then late in the second half a bullet head standing on the sideline, and another brother of an ASI player told the Azrou coach, who is a distinguished man, a former AUI coach and a player national player years ago, that his mother was goat shit. Or something close to that.

Without a word the coach called all his players off the field and headed for the parking lot. But Nizar's father, Karim, a defense attorney who I've written about persuaded the coach to put his anger aside and let the game continue. It did, to a 2-all tie. Which lead to a shootout. Four players from each side. Dash got his, along with a teammate, but one boy missed and Azrou's last chance to tie the shootout fell to the coach's son, who is twice as tall as any other player and a year older and allowed to play because there was an older player on the ASI team. HIs name Ayoub and normally he lazers the ball in and no one ever sees it. But today he gave a perfunctory kick right to the goalie who falls on his knees like Brandy Chastain and takes off his jersey part way to reveal the Michelain man's belly. I turned away. It was all too awful. Then the son of the property owner made some snide remarks. I felt a strong case of child abuse coming on and went quickly to the car....

Next day, sure enough, Dash took even more hits because his team had won without their best player and as far as they're concerned Dash can't go back to America soon enough.

It might all have been different if Violetta had come. I invited her, but Dash said absolutely not. It would have all been too embarassing....

Jun 6, 2006

Things Coming Apart

Scenes from Act V. The other day I., a 12th grade student, presented his senior project on Sufism, and in particular an evangelistic sect he found in Fez. The sect is headquartered in Senegal and follows the inspiration of a charismatic who has made quite a name for himself in parts of the Middle East and Europe. The student talked to cult members and took part in some activities, including meditation. Afterwards, he seemed drawn to Sufism, its extastatic nature and its 'direct line' to God.

Mr. A was invited to hear the presentation, in part because he teaches Arabic and in part because he is the school's resident authority on Islam. I hired him myself at one point to explore certain topics in the Koran. At the conclusion of the presentation Mr. A asked the student what he thought of his experience. His tone suggested a certain answer.

The student understood and looking a little sheepish, replied that clearly Sufism is not mentioned in the Koran and by extension this is all off the Islamic mark.

"Very good," replied Mr. A. nodding his head. "Yes, exactly right." And in the silence that followed the notion was clear that "Let's remember that the truth is not with such beliefs."

It was remiscent of the Orwell incident I described so many months ago. That suggested fear of political freedom; this suggests religious intolerance. But the key is fear and regimentation, the desire for following in lockstep, for not questioning authority or presumption. As someone said to me the other day, "From the beginning we are taught to fear. Everyone is telling you stories about what will happen when you are a small child, particularly if you are a woman. Stories of being beaten as wives. Or worse. And then perhaps your father may teach you to fear him and by extension you fear teachers and police and anyone in the government. Everything is about fear."


Another scene for the denouement. Last week in class a 10th grade boy kicked a girl in his class in the stomach. This boy is very special, a great athelete, unusually personable and articulate, a model student in many ways. I wrote a strong letter of recommendation so that he could attend a soccer camp this summer in Boston and told his mother, who owns a very upscale restaurant in Fez, that I would do whatever I could to help get him into a good college in the US, if he wanted that.

But then last week he showed another side. For some reason he was in a bad mood before this class and he had particular revulsion for a classmate, an American girl, L. who is his polar opposite in all respects. She is the outsider, and would be even if she were in America. Apparently, he called her a 'cunt' in Arabic, she didn't know the word but got a rough translation, and told him to fuck off. He threw something at her; she flipped him the bird and then while she was sitting he came over to her and kicked her in the stomach. This was in Barabara's class. Then uproar, B calling for help out in the hallway, visits to Mrs. Watkin's office, rumors that the boy would be expelled, which lead to more pandemonium, tears, and enormous hostility toward the victim.... Finally, the boy was suspended for two days and then on Monday both had to stand up in front of the school and apologize to each other. She for inciting him; he for kicking her. His apology included a smirk and knowing glances from friends. Never mind that had he done this to a Muslim girl her brother would have killed him. Or her parents would have paid a doctor to find extraordinary injuries, even if there weren't any, and he would have been in court and perhaps imprisoned.... Not unlike in America. But Ms. Watkins, for whatever reason, missed an opportunity and had no understanding of local custom. She was apparently taken in by persuasive students.

Afterwards, a Moroccan American whose mother is an administrator at the university, a girl, offered some comforting words to the victim, "It's alright. We all had to go through this.'


And finally Dash... Last night, Tuesday, he explained over dinner, and tears, that he would not play in today's soccer match between his school and Azrou. He plays on both teams but was going to play today for his school. He is by far the best player in the middle school at ASI. As a boy said the other day when asked in an ESL class to describe how to score a goal in soccer, an exercise in describing process, he replied, "we pass to Dash."

But there is something else. Dash has fallen in love and a girl with him. Violetta. She is the jewel girl at ASI. Spanish, as beautiful at girl at 12 as you've ever seen, and after being here for just six months, living with her brother and a Moroccan housekeeper, while her parents occasionally visit from Spain (which is its own story), unable to speak English then, she has now mastered the language, become a top student, a top athelete and absolutely stole the talent show with an MTV like dance number she did with three other girls. She has won the hearts of faculty and students alike and then fell in love with Dash and writes him endless notes, which he has left around for us to notice. But when asked about them he took the long planned opportunity to made it quite clear that he needed "space" and didn't want us going through his mail, and otherwise we should realize that's things have changed.

Pas de problem. Except that this relationship has been discovered at school, where his classmates now tease him. Now he takes hits on several fronts because in Moroccan terms he got, as John D. MacDonald put it, "The Girl, The Gold Watch and Everything."

We discussed this over dinner and I argued that whatever he did tomorrow was fine, play or not, but that he not submit to this rabble so filled with resentment and jealousy, and ever unable to understand the dynamics of a team or a group of any kind, save perhaps sitting around with immediate family.... "You decide, don't let them decide. Lead, don't follow. Act don't react."

And all these silly things parents say to kids.

Dinner ended, conversation subsided, Dash returned to his headphones, filled with Violetta's favorite song, Avril Lavigne's hit, Complicated.

May 31, 2006

Skin

On Tuesday we stopped on our way back to Kapenguria in Tamkal. It's a town tucked down in the fold of the Cherangani Hills. In a lush narrow valley with a waterfall above it and noisy river running through it, and a grassy road neatly trimmed by goats and cows, shaded by acacia trees. We were to visit a dispensary, but the nurse was not there, is never there. Marina suspects he's not working. Some problem with the community as well perhaps. We leave a message with his daugher and go back to the car. The flies are murderous. They attack the ears and behind the ears. You can't take your hands down from your head. I feel like a prize fighter in the late rounds. But I notice the flies don’t seem to attack the men in front of us. I ask Marina.

“Fresh skin,” she replies.

Fresh skin and she's fresh skin and I'm wondering how long she can manage this. This kind of work, the beauty and graciousness of East Africa notwithstanding — and the insecurity of it, let's not forget that — this work burns you out and there's always need for fresh skin.

May 27, 2006

Things Didn't Work Out

In addition to everything else, Marina gives me a birthday party. She makes the bread herself, along with mashed potatoes, barbecued meats and egg plant, fresh salad, lemon meringue pie and brownies. Her friend Ellen, from Peace Corps days in Togo and then New Haven, arrives from the DRC where she’s helping several pygmy tribes to learn the art of zoning land. Baptist, Marina’s boy friend is there. He’s Swiss, good natured, and the director of a small NGO focused on stopping forced marriages and female genital mutilation (FGM) — known locally as “cutting”.

All three, Marina, Ellen and Baptist speak Swahili. They are not wide eyed idealists but perhaps typical of a new generation of Expats looking to fit in to Africa rather than rule it, and content with an uncertain future rather than a romanticized, glorious past.

Dick arrives. He’s from the previous generation, from the 19th Century really. Tall, gaunt, with baby thin, clown-like hair on either side of a bald head, aviator glasses, a slight stoop, a dry wit and a weird biography, even by colonialist standards. He’s in his late 40s, although perhaps older, was born in Kenya and for years tried to leave, but never successfully. He went off to England for a while, got pieces of an education, but then things didn’t work out. He went to Bolivia for 12 years. He mumbled something about cocaine and having married a woman who liked to fight. But things didn’t work out and he returned to Kenya. He exported rare birds — he has a penchant for marginally illegal activities — but that didn’t work out either. These days he lives with his sister and his elderly mum, who run an upscale lodge. This is an odd lot; his mother, for example, always goes dreamy eyed when Dick puts a certain kind of cheese in a little tin, lets it hide for a few months until it turns blue with mold and smelly as a bushman’s socks.

During desert I asked Dick about the case of Lord Delemere’s son, Tom, who on the day I arrived was charged with having murdered a game warden walking on his property with another man and two dogs. Tom’s father owns two large properties, which total more than 150,000 acres. The murder is front page news in Nairobi, in part because this is the second time Tom has killed a black Kenyon. Six months ago he killed another man who he also claimed was trespassing. The case was dropped for lack of evidence.

Dick was defensive about Lord Tom, although I don’t think they know each other and they travel in different class circles. But there was the suggestion of white Kenyans giving each other the benefit of the doubt. Dick said the rumor around was that the killing was not in cold blood as many black Kenyans have suggested but rather a weird accident, in which Tom coming down a hill and spotted two men on his property. Land is lord in Kenya, especially for that generation of whites. The story is murky but predicated on Tom being a little wild and wild about his wild animals. Dogs present an unneeded predator to the environment. So with or without warning, Tom shot the two dogs with a .303 and killed them with one bullet each. But second bullet ricocheted off a bone and hit the game warden hiding in a bush.

Why was the warden hiding in a bush when he would have every right to visit? It’s not clear and later Dick suggested that Lord Delemere's son may have been involved in some marginal activities involving animal meat, but the whole story made more sense when Dick told it, even when he explained the second bullet’s extraordinary trajectory. “I was in the Red Cross once,” he had explained earlier, one of his few more benevolent tours of duty in the absurd. “We had some dodgey time then.” Once when driving near the Sudanese border a man tried to hijack his ambulance. Dick got out ran around the ambulance and tried to pull the man out. In the struggle the jacker’s gun went off. The bullet went through Dick’s hip bone, his penis, one testicle and out.

“I looked down and there was blood but I didn’t feel anything,” said Dick in his deep voice and in between long sips of beer. “But the same thing could have happened here.” He shook his head and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, ‘I know it sounds strange but this is a strange place and a lot of things happen that you can’t explain.’

“But whatever really happened out there,” Dick added. “Tom will have to leave the country.”

He didn’t say it with sadness exactly but clearly the case spreads doubt. Between the lines there’s always the worry that even in Kenya, someone could do what Muggabee did in Zimbabwe. The difference is that Kenya is more stable and a couple of black Kenyans, including a former president, own huge tracts of ranch land. This case could call people’s attention to the fact that the new colonialists, the new land lords, are black not white.

May 26, 2006

Eldoret

Friday afternoon. We go to the aids wing of the district hospital in Eldoret, a wild west town of 40,000 in the highlands above the Rift Valley. Marina has been very clever, she has lead me into the country slowly as though a long qualification is required. First to the game preserve, to heritage, to the ‘idea’ of Africa, to what little is left you could say of its origins; then closer in, but still on the flanks, to the colonial notion of a far away place, wild and inescapably beautiful. But ever in a compound, ever protected. Ever cut off.

Then finally, on the third day, to this second story room we’re in right now, with ten people, men and women in their 20s and 30s and one woman, in her late 40s. They look like professionals. They are attractive people, well groomed, with big smiles, confident looking. They remind me of insurance sales people I used to work with. In fact, they are trainers and outreach workers and they look like trainers and outreach workers anywhere in the world. Janice, the woman in her 40s, is a forceful personality, in her closely cropped hair, with her theatrical manner and voice. She introduces me to the group with the suggestion — and I'm guessing here — that because Marina is in Africa, and by gracious extension, African, therefore I am also African and being a father I am the father of everyone in the room. Everyone addresses me as 'Dad.'

'Hello, Dad.' And I'm thinking, is Janice playing with me or is this merely a clever graciousness? Later, I talk to her in the hall, say goodbye, and she seems both distant and close. I can't make her out. But then she has the illness, herself.

After Janice's introduction, one by one, we go around the room and each person identifies themselves. Most begin, ‘I am hiv-positive, ‘ and they might add, “living positively”, which has become the catch phrase in the last several years, a mantra from Magic Johnson perhaps to remind oneself that the stigma can be faced and life goes on. Despite the awfulness of the disease and all it has done to ravage humanity and make filth of a life. In West Pokot the infection rate is around 10 percent, although figures are suspect. Perhaps, 7 percent. And falling although the worst has yet to come......

So these people dressed in skirts and slacks are the front line soldiers whose job it is to go to towns and villages and persuade people that testing is worthwhile, especially for children, that condoms are not filled with the virus, that this is not an American plot to kill Africans, one of those myths that many here believe. And that living and facing this disease is the way to shed the stigma, not hiding, not fearing.

It’s tough work. And consider that these workers who themselves have the disease also have families. And they’re having children and having sex.....

Afterwards, Marina goes off to see someone. I stay in the courtyard of AMPATH, the large NGO, whose three story building this is, and whose game this is as well. They’re the organization spearheading getting drugs and food to HIV patients in the West Pokot District — one of say four districts where the virus in Kenya has hit hardest; the others are around Mombassa on the coast, Lake Victoria, three hours to the east, and to the south. All tolled there are 2 million people here who are HIV positive. Along with 900,000 orphans, in other words, children with one or both parents dead from the illness.

After I run into Janice I sit on the brick boundary of a circular garden in the courtyard. I notice a neon green grasshopper. I put my finger out; it shakes the tip of my finger and leaves its leg in the air as though to say, ‘I enjoyed meeting you.’ I try to continue our conversation but it jumps away, and then again. It moves toward a deep hole in the cement and I stand up and try to steer it away back toward this little circular garden, but it doesn't want to go that way and it occurs to me that I may increase the very danger I’m trying to eliminate, so I walk away. Everything is a metaphor in Africa.

Marina returns and we walk out to the parking lot of the hospital. And now there is an interesting little exchange that tells you much about the interior of the problem in fighting AIDS. Marina is arranging a taxi to take three trainers to their home after this seminar. In the background a man is singing from a low building with bars. This seems to be the facility for mental health patients. I ask the taxi driver what the man is singing but he doesn’t know because they’re from different tribes.

I notice a woman standing a few yards, away, white, in her 40s, clearly an American, with the sunglasses and body authority so engrained in Americans. She's from Iowa and exchanges greetings with Marina who asks about the possibility of getting more services to some of her patients. This is a long and convoluted story, but suffice to say Marina’s NGO works in part as a subcontractor to AMPATH, does some of the outreach work and shares in the grant money which AMPATH pulls in by bucket full. And to its credit. But there is some acrimony here. The NGO business is entrepreneurial by nature. The directors often act like Greek colonels or Donald Trumps for that matter. It’s all about control and since you’re so far away from the donors and administrators in New York or London or Geneva, anything goes. And if you can show the numbers, you get more money. And if you are a powerful personality you can attract more money. And the more money you get and the more numbers you get — the more people you can document getting your service — the more donors you get. The whole edifice of NGOs is built on the notion of critical mass — of patients and donors. Efficiency, however you define that, becomes the guiding principle, but as your organization grows bigger, and more and more management controls are applied to handle the ever bigger number of patients, the humanity sometimes begins to leak out. And in terms of management flexibility may be sacrificed. So the director of AMPATH, who is by all accounts a dedicated and creative genius, has set up his organization of clinics and satellite offices like a MacDonald’s franchise. There is one model for each clinic and you don’t deviate from the model, which is both good and bad. In effect, you leave little room for error, or innovation.

Marina’s NGO is small. She has four employees; AMPATH has dozens and big time grant money. Marina's notion is that there isn’t just one model and that all models need to remain organic, all models must be joint ventures between the NGO and local staff, and of course between doctors or social workers and patients. In effect, it’s the Paul Farmer notion that you give someone what they need and you treat one person as you would treat many and you treat all people as though they were your mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter. As you would if you were in America or Europe.

And so Marina and this woman from AMPATH are standing in the dirt parking lot of the aids wing with the crazy man singing in the background and Marina wants to know if food distribution and drug distribution can be localized. The other woman in an imperious way, responds and right away you can hear her defensiveness. Marina steps toward her and the power dance begins. The other woman says, "well, we’re thinking about it but there’s nothing we can do right now “ And then she adds to leave hope on the table, “we’re continuing to discuss it.” In that tone of organization-speak, which is to say, “mind your own business, we’ll get to it when we goddamn well please.”

But Marina is not put off and having presented her thesis in front of a room full of Yale’s finest minds in the school of public health isn’t going to be deterred by such old and transparent obstacles.

“Okay, but I still don’t quite understand why we can’t get these services to people who have to make several trips, to get drugs in one trip and food in another....”

Marina steps still closer, the other woman backs up. “But we have only a few people coming to these sites and it’s going to be a long time before we reach the critical mass that will make it worth while to....” The other woman is now retreating to her vehicle. “We’re going to keep discussing it but like I said, we just can’t do anything right now.’”

Right now is any time soon,. Right now is in the next few months, by the end of the year. Meanwhile, the patients must get to market today, must get medicine by tomorrow, must get their children tested as soon as possible. The well meaning woman from Iowa, who has herself been in the Peace Corps, is lost in the model, in the diagrams and grant proposals, and the expectations of people far away, who want the atta-a-boy feeling they’re doing something for the world.

But ‘on the ground,’ in the heart of darkness, the heart is your only hope, and once in you’re in, once you’ve made contact, your humanity is all that’s possible.... Nothing else will do, you have no other protection.

At the end of this, I’m thinking, Enough time spent on dialectics, reasons and withdrawals. Too long wandering among interesting ideas and pretty possibilities. Time to commit, to put your money down on something, to engage fully.